Hard coolers will always have their place in our gear closet, with their durable builds and extended ice retention allowing you to take them in the roughest environments for long periods of time. For most day trips and overnight adventures, though, we’ve long given them up for soft coolers. These bag-like coolers weigh so much less than traditional rotomolded options, all while delivering enough insulation to keep ice for a day or so. You can also carry them like a bag, ensuring better ergonomics, apart from packing down to a more compact size once emptied. Suffice to say, soft coolers are just more convenient in plenty of situations.
Whichever features you want to prioritize, there’s likely a soft cooler that can meet your requirements. In case you’re curious what selections are out there, here are some of our favorite cooler bags available today.
Carhartt Large Insulated Convertible Backpack Cooler Tote
We’re big fans of totes for beach days, picnics, and other day-long affairs. Carhartt takes the classic tote and puts insulation on it, turning out this handy soft cooler that can fit around 24 cans (without ice, mind you). According to Carhartt, the insulation allows it to keep the contents chilled for up to 24 hours. While we didn’t expect to get that much, it really does seem to maintain temperatures well, so you can really have chilled drinks all the way to the end of the day with this thing. While it’s designed with your standard tote straps for hanging on the shoulder, it does have an adjustable strap system on one side that lets you carry it on two shoulders like a backpack when it gets a little too heavy for comfort. We love the styling of this bag, by the way, which looks just like any ordinary Carhartt bag in their classic brown color. Except… you know, it’s going to keep your beer cool through a hot day at the beach.
Available in four sizes from 9L to 20L, this sling-style soft cooler looks like a standard dry bag for taking to the beach. Except, instead of holding your clothes and gear, it stashes your refreshments, with the 15L version able to hold 12 cans and a day’s worth of ice in tow. According to the outfit, the bag can maintain icy temperatures for over 24 hours, ensuring you’ll always have cold drinks during day trips and overnight stays. The bag is fully waterproof with welded seams, ensuring no leaks whatsoever, while the built-in air valve allows you to add air to the insulation layer, so the whole thing floats when it gets dropped on water. Oh yeah, if you hate having to carry an empty cooler bag at the end of the day, this thing is collapsible, allowing you to roll it up into a compact pile, making it very convenient to keep around.
We’re big fans of Hydro Flask’s soft cooler designs and their Day Escape tote is easily our favorite of the lot. It just looks so unassuming, almost like it’s little more than a slightly beefier beach tote. Except, this thing comes with insulation that’s rated to keep drinks cold for up to 36 hours, all while coming with welded seams and watertight zippers to keep any leaks from happening. Aside from those, it just looks and feels like a regular tote, with carry handles, a removable cross body strap, and gear loops, so you can attach other gear to the exterior. We love how sturdy this thing feels, by the way, allowing you to fill it with drinks and ice without any worries (it can fit 42 cans without any ice).
Available in four sizes (from 12 cans to 40 cans), this soft cooler has a semi-structured body that should make it ideal for taking outdoors, complete with a heavy-duty nylon shell that should handle the usual bumps and knocks that will come its way. Oh yeah, the darn thing floats in water, too, so you can take it on the boat without worries of losing it when things get crazy in the river. It boasts 24 hours of ice retention using closed-cell foam insulation, which, in our experience, it can handle with ease, making it perfect for picnics, beach days, and even overnight hikes. Features include a leakproof zippered opening on top, a semi-rigid lid, carry handles on top, and a detachable shoulder strap.
This soft cooler has a style that makes it look like a regular rucksack, all while coming with enough insulation to keep its content cold for 36 hours. We particularly love backpack coolers because they’re so easy to carry, with the dual shoulder straps and a sternum strap allowing it to distribute the load across your upper body. It has welded seams to ensure no leaks whatsoever, complete with a watertight zipper on top, so the bag can get turned over in your car during transport without any water spilling. It has a lot of neat details, too, including a compression-molded base that lets it stand upright, padded mesh back panel, padded shoulder straps, carry handles, and welded loops on the body for attaching accessories.
If you want a soft cooler that can handle the rigors of camping and the outdoors, you might want to check Yeti’s semi-structured soft-sided model, as it’s built with just a tad more rugged character than your typical cooler bag. The cooler walls, for instance, are made from the outfit’s waterproof and puncture-resistant DryHide shell, while high-performance Hydrolok zippers and double-stitched stress points ensure durable performance outdoors. It has a zippered lid that opens to a wide-mouth opening, allowing you to access the full contents of the cooler like a traditional ice box, with enough room inside to fit up to 30 cans, although you might want to carry less, so you can throw some ice in there, too. The cooler uses closed-cell rubber foam for insulation, which allows it to keep ice for well over a day, ensuring you can have cold drinks on the ready all day, all night, and the next day as well. The biggest downside here is that they priced it like other YETI coolers, so it’s a bit too rich for those looking for soft coolers on a budget.